To All the Saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi

Philippians 1:1-11 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Good morning. I’m delighted to be able to return with you to the book of Philippians this morning. As you may recall, this past January Mark and I were both voted in as elders. W e had each taken a turn preaching in December in order to demonstrate to you our ability to teach, which is one of the biblical qualifications for eldership listed in 1 Timothy 3. So we cherry-picked a passage, so to speak, to engage with you in that endeavor.

My passage was Philippians 2:5-11, otherwise known as the Christ hymn, which I believe is the theological pinnacle of the letter – even one of the greatest passages in all of Scripture. Since then I decided to preach through the whole of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. So, having helicoptered you to the grandest view in the mountain range, I now have the odd task of taking you back to the trailhead and doing the hike the old-fashioned way.

In these opening verses is, of course, an introduction to the letter, with Paul’s customary greeting, thanksgiving, and prayer. Yet even here he tips his hand to reveal the content of the rest of the letter by highlighting the joy of solidarity as gospel partners with the church, the need for unity in the church, and our mutual hope in the day of Christ. The main idea is Paul’s example of joy in his partnership in the gospel. The main takeaways are to acknowledge the past grace of God, anticipate the day of Christ, and act righteously. Let’s pray.


Heavenly Father, Thank you for the apostle Paul’s letters in Scripture. Each one has a lot in common structurally with the others, including the greetings, thanksgivings, and prayers we’ll examine this morning. And yet These letters were written to real churches with real struggles and real needs. They were written in response to specific practical issues. Help us in the next half hour to see ourselves in them, and thereby to position ourselves to receive from the apostle Paul as they did. Amen.

Authors, Addressees, and Greetings

Paul and Timothy

When we read the books of the Bible, seeking to understand them as they were intended by their authors, we must acknowledge the context from which they were written. There are numerous genres of literature within the Bible. A book of history such as Nehemiah reads difierently from a book of worship and prayer like the Psalms. And a book of prophecy such as Jonah reads difierently from a gospel like Matthew. Awareness of the intentions and conventions of the difierent genres breeds insight.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is known as an epistle – his version of a then-common Greek form of writing known as a friendship letter. Such letters followed a rote pattern. Says one commentator, “Almost all letters of the Greco-Roman period begin with a threefold salutation: the writer, the addressee, and greetings. V ery often the next item would be a wish (sometimes a prayer) for the health and well-being of the addressee. Paul’s letters usually include a Thanksgiving…. But in contrast to most ancient letters, which tend to be stereotyped, Paul tends to elaborate these formal items… [bringing] the infiuence of the gospel, and thereby become distinctively Christian” (Fee, Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 59). Although the introductory content of friendship letters often manifested as brief, obligatory cliches, Paul’s introductory matters are usually quite lengthy and foreshadow the concerns of the letter itself. His opening verses are highly intentional. We see a fitting example of his intentionality in the poignant absence of a Thanksgiving in Paul’s letter of rebuke to the Galatian church.

You may have noticed that verse 1 identifies both Paul and Timothy as the writers; however, it’s unlikely that Timothy was an actual coauthor of the letter. V erse three begins the letter in 1st person singular (“I thank my God”). Later in 2:19, Timothy is referred to in 3rd person (“I hope to send Timothy to you soon”).

Commentators suggest that Timothy dictated, or wrote down, the letter for Paul. There are at least two precedents for this practice in Paul’s letters. In Galatians 6:11 he says, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand”. And in 2 Thessalonians 3:17 he says, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.” In both examples, Paul is contrasting the handwriting of the rest of the letter with his own handwriting in the closing verses. It seems most likely then that Paul included Timothy in his introduction because of his intimate relationship with the Philippians, and because he intended to send him there soon as his representative – sort of as an endorsement. Both of these are indicated in chapter 2:19-23.

It’s also interesting to note that Paul titles himself and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus” – a title used otherwise only in his letter to Titus. Except for using the title of “prisoner” in his personal letter to Philemon, and no titles at all in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Paul used the title “an apostle of Christ” exclusively in his 8 other letters. As I’ve just pointed out, every word in Paul’s introductory verses is intentional – there is no filler here.

Paul’s reference to himself as a servant is the first glimpse he gives of his intentions in the letter. Namely, that the church would appropriate his exemplary attitude as a willing slave, eager for the honor of serving the interests and renown of his Master in whatever errand he wills. As we work our way through the letter, we’ll see that Paul exhorts the Philippians to imitate himself (as well as other ministers like Timothy and Epaphroditus, and ultimately Christ). He provides numerous examples from his own life to correct and encourage the Philippians to a right disposition, a right attitude, toward God’s providence.

To All the Saints

I’ll say just a few words about the addressees and the greeting before we consider the history of the Philippian church which serves as the backdrop to the letter. Notice that Paul is addressing all the saints at Philippi. Again, this is not incidental. This is the first of 7 instances of the word all in these opening verses and there are at least 9 more in the remainder of the letter. The title “saints”, referring to the ordinary believers in the church, is a practice rooted in the OT. Consider, for example, Exodus 19:5-6, a passage quoted verbatim by Peter in 1 Peter 2. Peter there applies these verses originally written to Israel to the New T estament church of both Jews and Gentiles. He says, “you are a holy nation” – a sanctified, or set apart, people.

The church is God’s holy people. All who are in Christ are saints – “set apart” for God. In his numerous uses of the word ” all” here and throughout the letter, Paul is seeking to draw the church together in unity. Overseers, elsewhere called elders, and deacons are the two fundamental ofices of church government. Paul’s mention of them here validates their authority and corroborates with his discussion of their qualifications in his letter to Timothy. It also indicates that he intends them to be an active part of the response the church ought to make to his call for unity.

The Servant of Jesus Christ

Lastly, Paul’s greeting, universal to all his letters, also breaks rote conventions. While being addressed to the Philippian church (which may have been exclusively Greek), “Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” combines a customary Greek greeting with the Hebrew ‘shalom’, or peace. In fact, the aroma of these introductory verses is strikingly Hebrew. Paul’s reference to him and Timothy as ” servants of Christ Jesus ” brings to mind Moses and others like David or Nehemiah who were titled the “servant of the Lord” or “servant of God” . These men, though great leaders, were also humble servants that interceded with God for His people much like priests.

Just so, Paul will continue in verses 3-8 by ofiering up the saints at Philippi in prayer before the Lord. He does so, first, with Thanksgiving, petitioning the Lord by bringing as a memorial their partnership in the gospel. Then, second, by prayer and supplication for their needs in verses 9-11.

The Philippian Church – Paul’s Dear Gospel Partners

But before we dig into the content of his Thanksgiving in verses 3-8 and his prayer in verses 9-11, let’s consider the background of Paul’s relationship with this church. Philippi was located far west of the Holy Land, on a trade route running along the coast of the Aegean Sea in the north of modern-day Greece. The birth of the Philippian church is described in Acts chapter 16, where Paul and Timothy were basically forced by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel there. Luke writes starting in Act 16:6,

“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to T roas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. So, setting sail from T roas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.”

In AD 49, when Paul and Timothy first visited, Philippi would have been a thoroughly Roman city and therefore under the sway of the imperial cult, which worshiped Caesar as Lord and Savior. Failure to do so was seen as subversive activity. So when Paul and his companions showed up proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, they were vehemently accused as “advocate[s] of customs unlawful for… Roman citizens to accept or practice” in vs. 21, then beaten and imprisoned – a sight the Philippian church would do well to remember.

Although Paul’s custom when coming to a new city was to go into the synagogue and reason with the Jews about how Jesus was the Christ, we find in Acts 16:13 that he goes outside the city to a place of prayer by the river – potentially indicating that there wasn’t even enough Jewish presence in the city to convene a synagogue. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Philippians were exclusively Gentile and, like Paul, privileged Roman citizens.

Knowing, then, the Roman waters in which the Philippian church was submerged is insightful to understanding Paul’s essential exhortation in the letter to “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel” in (the original Greek of) 1:27 and his statement in 3:20 that ” our citizenship is in heaven”.

It’s also insightful to know that commentators understand references to Macedonia in Paul’s other letters as synonymous with the church at Philippi. These other references bear witness to the generous and joyful partnership of this church in Paul’s missionary efiorts. For example in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul says the Macedonians “begged earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” despite their “extreme poverty”. And later in 11:9, Paul credits brothers from Macedonia with meeting his own needs while in Corinth.

Thanksgiving (vs. 3-8)

So we see that Paul’s gospel ministry both birthed the Philippian church, and also overfiowed in a longstanding relationship of material support between the church and Paul. T ogether, these provide solid ground for his thanksgiving in verses 3-8, which we now turn to.

Koinonia (vs. 4-5)

Paul’s words in verses 3-8 (which are apparently “a single especially dificult and convoluted sentence in Paul’s Greek” [Gordon Fee]) aren’t the prayer itself, but lay a foundation for the prayer which comes in verse 9. The word for prayer that occurs twice in verse 4 is actually petition. Paul does not mean that whenever he happens incidentally to think of the Philippians, that he remembers them fondly. Rather, in his regular rhythm of prayer for them, he brings them before God with joy and thanks. The source of his joy and thanks is the foundation for his petition to God on their behalf. So what is it about the Philippians that Paul remembers before God?

Verse 5 tells us it’s their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” This Greek word koinonia denotes the active partnership between Paul and the church in proclaiming the gospel. It started with their conversion under his gospel preaching and continued to the time of his writing through their relief of the saints in other places, their support of his missionary efiorts, and now their gift for his needs while imprisoned. It includes their shared love for Christ, zeal for his Name to be proclaimed, and sharing in one another’s sufiering for his sake. It’s both their genuine faith, and it’s their faithful partnership.

So he speaks of their koinonia throughout Philippians:

“You are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7).

“It was kind of you to share my trouble” (4:14).

“No church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again… I have received full payment and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent” (4:15,16,18).

Paul’s joy and thanksgiving fiows from their kinship in the gospel.

The Good and Gracious Work of God (vs. 6-8)

He continues in verse 6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. What specifically does he mean when he says “good work”? Does he just mean meeting his needs while in prison? No, rather his need simply occasioned one more instance of their koinonia. Note that he is thanking God for their partnership in the gospel. It began with their Spirit-wrought faith in Christ, and it continues today in their ongoing support of his evangelistic ministry, his church-strengthening ministry, and their own gospel witness in Macedonia.

Paul’s joy is rooted in the marvelous knowledge that God is the one who compelled him to Philippi to preach the gospel, wrought faith in the Philippians, and then moved them to generosity and gospel zeal. As he says later in 2:13, “It is God who works in you” . And since it is God who authored their faith, Paul is confident that God will also sustain, grow, and complete that work.

Paul continues in verse 7 by saying, “it is right for me to feel this way about you all…”? We can understand the meaning of the word translated here as “feel” by considering a few of its nine other occurrences in this letter. For example,

In 2:2, he tells them to be”of the same mind”
In 2:5 he tells them to “have the mind of Christ”
In 3:15 he tells them to “think this way”
And in 4:2 he entreats Euodia and Syntyche to be “of the same mind”

So, Paul’s feeling in verse 7 is more than afiection and also more than a thought or idea. It’s an opinion, or attitude, or disposition. Yet again, I encourage you that Paul’s choice of words in these opening sentences of the letter is not incidental. Throughout the letter Paul is going to exemplify right attitudes that lead to right responses in order to address specific issues within the Philippian church.

Why is it right for Paul to feel this way about them all? On what grounds does Paul base this confidence? What is the evidence that their koinonia is a genuine work of God – from whence his joy can safely fiow? He says it’s because, “you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel”. It is their partnership with him in two kinds of grace that bear witness to the handiwork of God among them. Now, I don’t know about you, but I maybe don’t immediately think of persecution, beatings, chains, or legal defense as an experience of grace. But Paul wants to help the Philippians see it as such – or in his words, to “think this way” about it.

These two evidences of grace, are that of giving and that of sufiering. Both are significant themes in the letter and I will only touch on them now:

First, the grace of giving – The Philippians had a track record of generous giving for the sake of Christ and his church. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 we read,

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of afiiction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overfiowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.”

The words “favor” and “grace” in these verses are the same word in the Greek. They had considered it a grace to have an opportunity to give to the saints. It is both a grace toward the giver to have the honor and the ability to participate in the work of God and it is also grace working in the giver to motivate the giving.

Second, the grace of sufiering – The Philippians had partnered with Paul in his sufiering by giving to his needs while in prison. This grace of sufiering had also become personal to them as we will see later in 1:29, where he says, “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also sufier for his sake”. The word “granted” here is the verb form of the noun grace.

Extreme poverty does not normally overfiow in a wealth of generosity. It was their abundance of joy in Christ that bred their unusual response. Nor does sufiering normally produce joy. Yet people who remember their citizenship is in heaven are empowered to think and behave this way.

(Verse 8) Paul saw disregard for material things and association with those in prison as evidences of a gracious work of God among the Philippians. His confidence led to joyful thanksgiving but also to a deep afiection for his partners. This is evident right from the beginning of the letter and now specifically named in verse 8, where we read, “God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the

afiection of Christ Jesus”. Paul here makes an exceptionally emphatic statement of his afiection for his fellow Christians, who have truly shared in his sufiering and his zeal in partnership for the cause of Christ time and again.

His yearning for them is not mere human longing, but Christ’s afiection in him. “The affection of Christ Jesus” is literally translated “with the bowels” of Christ – meaning the most deep and strong feelings of love and afiection. Again, we will see this throughout the letter. And though it is stated explicitly in verse 8, Paul’s afiection for this church fiavors the whole introduction.

Thus ends Paul’s thanksgiving defense of his confidence, joy, and afiection for the church at Philippi.

But before we move on to Paul’s prayer, pause with me to refiect on what we’ve just considered: Is this the way that I think about the people sitting down the row from me right now? Have my bowels recently been stirred with afiection for the people of Grace Church? Do I acknowledge God with gratitude for saving and working in them? Do I have a regular habit – a plan even – of bringing these saints to remembrance before God? How much energy and emphasis do I place on partnering in the gospel with these people? How is that refiected in my priorities and how does it inform my relationships?

These are some of the questions Paul intended for his personal example to engender in his hearers.

Paul’s Prayer for Love to Abound (vs 9-11)

The final section of Paul’s introduction is his prayer. It is a petition for God to grow them together in love, anticipating the day of Christ in which they would be ofiered to Christ as the pure and blameless Bride, to the glory and praise of God. The means of their growth in love is knowledge and all discernment. The purpose of their growth in love is the anticipation of the day of Christ. The content of their love is to be righteous fruit. And all will result in the glory and praise of God.

His prayer for knowledge and discernment in V erse 9 is echoed in his letters to the churches at Ephesus and Colossae. Yet here Paul calls uniquely on these qualities to serve as means to the end that their “love may abound more and more”. Again, Paul is tipping his hand here to reveal what is coming in the letter.

The Means

As I said, his prayer is for their love to abound. Paul has just presented himself as an example through his unabashed expression of love toward them all. Now he names “knowledge and all discernment” as the means to the healthy growth of their love. Later he will set forth Christ as the ultimate example of selfiess and humble love. It is growth in the right knowledge of Christ that is the root of growing love. Unguided, indiscriminate love is not the goal. Paul prays for “all discernment”. As one commentator says, “Love needs to know how to serve others… Love needs to see clearly and speak truthfully… [love needs] wisdom to do the right thing and to speak the right word… without [discernment] love does not know how to express itself [appropriately]” (Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans, 2009, p. 58, 59).

The Purpose

Next, in Verse 10, Paul lays out the purpose of growing in love. Namely, to “approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”. “Pure and blameless” is Old Covenant sacrificial language applied to the church – and it will appear time and again throughout the letter:

In 2:15 he says, “that you may be blameless and innocent… without blemish”
Then in 2:17 he says, “I am to be poured out as a drink ofiering upon the sacrificial ofiering of your faith”
And again, in 4:18, he refers to their material gift as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God”.
The goal of our love toward Christ and toward one another is that we would be, as Paul also says in Romans 12:1, “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”.

The “Day of Christ” is mentioned by Paul here again for the second time in these introductory verses. (The first time was in verse 6.) The phrase comes up again in 2:16, but this hope and expectation flavors the whole letter. Lord willing, we will unpack it further as we work our way through the rest of the letter in subsequent sermons.

The Content

Finally, in verse 11, Paul directs them to the content of their growing love – “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”. By “the fruit of righteousness” Paul does not mean that legal righteousness is the fruit, but that the fruit that comes through a vital and growing relationship with Jesus Christ is righteous fruit. T o be clear, our righteousness before God is not our own. It is what I like to call an alien righteousness – the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone that reconciles us to God. As he says in 3:9, “not having a righteousness of my own… but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”.

But what Paul means here is that love that grows and abounds through knowledge of Christ produces the fruit of right attitudes and right actions. One final time, I’m compelled to remind you that Paul’s words here at the beginning foreshadow the concerns of the rest of the letter.

The Result

Brothers and sisters, this is not a work we can do on our own, but the very work of God done in us, achieved by grace. That is why it begins with prayer. It is beyond us. It must come through a growing knowledge of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit:

Ephesians 3:16-19 – “may… you… be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Colossians 1:9-10 – “may [you] be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”.

So Paul ends his prayer with a doxology: “to the glory and praise of God”. Our lives of growing love toward one another are to redound to his glory and praise. W e worship him with our very lives in order to magnify his worth before a watching world.


In conclusion, Paul’s joy in the Philippians is rooted in his conviction that God is at work in them, as evidenced by the grace of giving, and also the grace of sharing in his sufiering. And Paul’s overfiowing afiection for the Philippians is rooted in the koinonia, or partnership, they share in gospel proclamation. His prayer for them that they grow together in love hints at his concern regarding divisions in the church in the context of sufiering. Following Paul’s example in verses 1-11 then leads us to three broad categories of application with which to approach the Christian life:

Acknowledge the Past Grace of God

First, acknowledge the past grace of God. Like Paul, our joy should be rooted in the conviction that any true grace has been God-wrought. Acknowledge the Spirit’s work in your life and those around you. Make a habit of turning to God in thanksgiving when you see it. If, as Paul says in Romans 1:21 & 28, the defining characteristic of unbelief is not wanting to acknowledge God or give him thanks, then surely we should be the opposite!

Praise God that we do not walk alone! We’ve gathered here this morning with scores of the saints. There are more Christians in more places than ever before. God is working out his plan to redeem a people from every tribe, nation, and tongue – and we get to be part of that. Like Paul, remember your fellow saints before God with thanksgiving and joy. Make an actual plan for how you can routinely remember specific people before God. Start by praying for the families in your DG. If you’re struggling to get along with someone in this room, pray for them. It’s hard to be angry at someone when you’re praying for them.

Anticipate the Day of Christ

Second, anticipate the day of Christ. It will come. Where is your hope this morning? The good work God began in the church will be perfected at the day of Jesus Christ. The world may fall apart, but His Bride will be presented to Him, pure and blameless, and adorned with the fruit of righteousness. It is certain. This is the hope that gave Paul confidence and allowed him to be joyful and full of thanks while in chains. Place your hope there.

Act Righteously in Faith, Hope, and Love

Finally, act righteously in faith, hope, and love. Pray for our church to grow in love for Christ, his people, and his cause through knowledge and all discernment. That relationships, attitudes, and actions within the church would be guided by truth. Seek to know Christ and to apply that knowledge to your responses to one another. Earnestly yearn for the grace of contributing to the needs of the saints. Brothers and sisters, if anyone knows, Alena and I know that I do not need to exhort the people of Grace in generosity. Y our love for Alena and I, rooted in our koinonia in Christ, and driven by your zeal for the Name, have most certainly overfiowed in a wealth of generosity occasioned by Rani’s adoption. Only, as Paul urges, do so more and more.

Closing Prayer


May we imitate Paul by considering ourselves your servants, being eager to step into whatever errand you have for us. May we imitate his zeal for the Name of Christ and his confidence that Christ will surely be magnified. May the faithfulness of God be our foundation when people fail us and when we fail them.

And may our love abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Amen.